Twins, Retractables, And What's Holding Us Back
In the first installment of this interview, Cessna President
Jack Pelton opened up to us about his flying roots, his love for
general and grassroots aviation, and his current recreational
We got him to admit he flies other planes, even though he, like
many of us, learned to fly in a Cessna. Now we move on to the
company's current and future products, and Pelton identifies the
one factor that's acting as a gate on new piston-engine
developments: propulsion technology.
Aero-News: Now going back to before your time
as CEO. In 1986, Cessna discontinued its single-engine line, and
the piston twins petered out at, I think, about the same time.
Jack Pelton: Sure did. I think we stopped
building piston twins in... 86?
Jessica Myers (Cessna's Media Person):
JP: 86, 87.
Aero-News: So that's going back a ways. Have
you ever given any thought to bringing the twins back?
JP: It's often
discussed, you know, in the customer base. We don't personally see
an economic business case to bring them back. The way technology is
moving, if you look at building a, oh, a turbine twin versus a
very-light jet, like we have with the [Citation] Mustang, it's
tough to compete from a cost perspective with what's coming in from
a technology standpoint.
Aero-News: It probably costs you more to make a
twin than a Mustang, then...
JP: Just the engines, engines, avionics, and
systems don't scale very well. So if you're looking at putting an
avionics system and flight control system, like we have in the
Mustang, you aren't going to get a significant cost advantage, to
make it a viable product.
Aero-News: You can't take that... Mustang
technology, much downmarket from where it goes with the
JP: Not and scale price down, you can't.
Aero-News: So you can build a small airplane
for the same price, sell fewer of them...
Aero-News: ...and make a small fortune from a
Aero-News: The other question is, when you
brought the singles back, you stayed with the fixed-gear
Aero-News: ...and the retractables, like my
father's beloved 210...
JP: [laughs] I can't go ANYWHERE without
someone asking me, "Why aren't you building the 210?"
Aero-News: Well, having seen firsthand the
ownership cycle of the 210, I think I can understand...
JP: Was it pressurized?
Aero-News: No, but a turbo. And
maintenance wise it was... maintenance, insurance... and the
insurers have a vote.
JP: Well, but today, if you look at today's
206, the performance is pretty darn close. Especially the turbo
206, to a 210. Speed-wise, it's almost there, so... you're saving
all the maintenance costs and the insurance. We've got a product
that's very competitive with the 210. I don't think people really
appreciate that. They think, "Retractable gear, 210, why aren't you
making that?" And it kind of had its own niche, but... the 206 is
Aero-News: And of course, Piper is making six
seaters in both fixed and retractable gear. They were only making
the retractables for a while, and you each had your own market
niche. Of course, they don't produce your volume, I would say.
Aero-News: But they're doing quite well in the
six seat market. In the four seat, you... and other people... are
eating their lunch, but the six seat seems to be going the other
JP: We have a good market share in the six
seat. I don't remember the exact percent, but I think we're better
Aero-News: And really, you're pretty much the
only players in volume production.
Aero-News: There are some of these guys that
build two planes a year...
JP: But then, there are other competitors that
are ramping up nicely. Alan and Dale [Klapmeier, of Cirrus Design],
I mean, every year they keep building more and more.
Aero-News: I'm sure you've heard Alan's
announcement of his next product.
JP [curious]: Is that his six-seater?
Aero-News: No, you ask him what he's making
next, and he tells you, "well, it's going to be a supersonic
business jet, it has vertical take off and landing, it's gonna burn
13 gallons an hour, and it will be available for $1.1 million. Real
JP [mock-serious]: Did you put your money
Aero-News: Oh certainly!
JP: Cause it sounds like a heck of a deal!
Aero-News: Well, if you've been in EAA that
long, you've seen some of the people that come and go, promising
JP: Jim Bede.
Aero-News: I'm sure Jim's here somewhere,
JP: And people are buying 'em.
Well, I've been wanting to ask this. Do you plan to do anything to
enhance the value proposition of the larger piston aircraft?
JP: We continue to look at how we can continue
to grow and invest in our products to make sure.... If the market
is there we'll be there.
Aero-News: Are you concerned about the
Gippsland Airvan in the 206 market?
JP: No. It's not a direct competitor. Its kinda
like comparing the Eclipse and the Mustang. Two different price
points, two different capability levels.
Aero-News: So the jets are not going to go any
smaller, the pistons are not going to go anywhere from the line we
JP: Pistons, they're gonna go where we can go
with the technology. If somebody can come up with innovative engine
technology that would allow us to do more in the single engine
piston, and grow the single engine piston, we would explore
But you know, in our industry everybody asks why there aren't so
many revolutionary new products -- well, it's driven by technology.
The Mustang, the Eclipse -- those are only coming about because the
engine technology finally became available at the right price, and
the avionics technology became available at the right price, so
that you get the right cost, you can hit the right price point for
the right products.